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Ma Perkins Moments

by Robert G. Cowser
Robert G. Cowser

It's not unusual for us to relate an experience to a certain time of day, a particular season, or to a distinctive odor prevalent when the incident occurred. As a child growing up on a farm in Saltillo during the Great Depression, I recall a certain episode from the radio soap opera Ma Perkins. The show was sponsored by the manufacturers of the detergent Oxydol. Beginning in 1933, the NBC show was the first of its kind. On a crisp fall afternoon of my childhood I remember that my mother turned the radio dial to WFAA Dallas-Fort Worth to learn about a critical development in the lives of Ma Perkins' family and the employees at the lumber yard she owned. An enemy had left a package containing a time bomb in the office at the lumber yard. Though the bright autumn sun shined through the window near where the radio was positioned, there was a chill in the room, for the fire in the hearth had died. Hearing the dialogue, I was transported beyond the living room of a Texas farm house to a small town somewhere in the Midwest, the setting of the Ma Perkins soap opera.

Some twenty years later I was living in South Texas, four hundred miles from where I grew up. I remember a particular day in early fall, only a few weeks after I had moved to Victoria. On that day the sun was shining, helping to moderate the crispness in the air. My teaching schedule at the two-year college was light that day; I came home in the early afternoon and out of habit turned on the small radio in my apartment. It happened that an episode of Ma Perkins was on the air. I sat on a sofa near the window as the bright autumn sun warmed my shoulder as I noted how similar were the conditions of that day to the conditions of the day I recalled listening to a particular episode of Ma Perkins.

A wave of nostalgia came over me as I listened to Virginia Payne, the same actress who began reading the Ma Perkins role when the show began. I remembered that fall day twenty years before when my mother and I heard the ticking of the detonator on the bomb in the box in the office at the lumber yard. We were disappointed that we had to wait until the following day to learn whether the bomb exploded.

Recently at noon time as I walked toward my car in the parking lot at the YMCA In Ashland, Missouri, now my home, I breathed in the crisp autumn air and marveled at the brilliant sunshine. I thought of two particular days in the past when near mid-day the conditions were remarkably similar. If I so chose, I could have listened to an episode of Ma Perkins to complete my reminiscence.

Robert G. Cowser
December 1, 2022

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